Click to hear: “Hell’s Kitchen”
The Cambiata is an enormously talented five-piece band from the Portland area. Their new, self-titled album is masterful — a passionate, gorgeous, intelligent and challenging collection of 11 exceptionally well-crafted compositions.
So why does it leave me cold?
Well, mostly because singer/guitarist Chris Moulton keeps overshooting the emotional mark. Moulton has a powerful, gymnastic voice, but he delivers almost every lyric in a breathy, dramatic fashion that borders on Broadway. It’s too much.
Granted, I’m almost two decades out of high school, and this group’s fan base gets carded. Teens and twenty-somethings eat this emo stuff up. It’s cathartic. And The Cambiata clearly moves them — fans have been known to drive through several states to see them live. The band has close to 12,000 MySpace friends as of this writing. They are destined to land a major-label contract.
The easiest way to describe The Cambiata’s music is to ask you to imagine what it would sound like if Freddie Mercury was the lead singer of Radiohead.
Musically, The Cambiata is amazing. Every track is a major production number. There are strings, horns, choruses of background vocals, tape loops, atmospheres… All this is artfully added to the tight musical core created by keyboardist/guitarist Sean Morin, guitarist Miguel Barajas, bassist Stan Dzengelewski and drummer Dan Capaldi.
These songs brood and swoon and unexpectedly erupt with an elegance that’s striking to behold. The opener, “Changing Everything,” is half-stirring, half-suicidal. A lovely acoustic arrangement augmented with strings is repeatedly overshadowed by a Greek Chorus declaring, “This town will kill us all.”
“Hell’s Kitchen” is radio-ready modern rock that’ll never make the airwaves, thanks to several strategically placed “fucks,” as in: “So if it’s me you aim to change / You can fuck right off.” (Like I said, the kids go wild for that sort of sentiment. I’ve just outgrown it.)
The next track, “Chameleon Spit,” is admirably restrained by comparison. Given an opportunity after the first verse to overact, Moulton demurs, barely singing the last line and then coasting into some beautiful ooh-ing before the song regains its sleek, danceable groove. But then we get the overblown ballad “The Gold She Gives,” and we’re back on the Great White Way.
And on it goes, through seven more songs of brilliant, over-emoted, orchestral pop-rock, like the genuinely show-tuney “Alaska” and the elegiac closer, “I-V-I.”
The Cambiata began four years ago as an “experimental screamo” band, and through a couple lineup changes has evolved into a remarkably sophisticated group. There is real nuance and subtlety in their music, and the band deserves heaps of respect for all the compositional chances they take here. Should they eventually decide to dial back the melodrama, they’ll even have old fucks like me on board.
— Chris Busby
The Cambiata plays a CD release show Fri., Jan. 9, with opening acts KID:NAP:KIN and The Urgency at The Station, 272 St. John St., Portland, at 7 p.m. Tix: $10-$12 (all ages). 773-3466. For more on the band, visit cambiata.net.